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Research must be one of the most abused words in the English language.

Consider for a moment the dictionary definition: ‘systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to reach new conclusions’.

With that in mind, does research really tell us that those in the lowest socio-economic quartile have the most limited household spending power or did we always know the poor were short of cash?

But sometimes lessons in the bleedin’ obvious are exactly what we need.

This week the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) published the findings of its first ever civil society almanac.

It showed that 88% of people think there’s a social divide in the UK but just 23% would be prepared to get involved in their community to do something about it.

While the NCVO rightly highlighted this as a cause for concern, the headline figures were hardly surprising.

Just because you recognise there’s a social divide it doesn’t necessarily follow that you care.

Equally, if more of us were prepared to get stuck in then presumably there wouldn’t be such a division in the first place.

But the study also served to highlight the way in which these inequalities are manifested.

Affluent areas have roughly two-thirds more charities than the most deprived – the poorer you are, the less likely you’ll pursue your goals by setting up a charity, as NCVO chief executive Stuart Etherington puts it.

And it’s not difficult to understand why.

When my nephew was born with special needs, my sister and her husband soon discovered there was a lack of support locally for the steep learning curve that lay ahead for them.

The solution? They set up a charity through which parents could support each other.

Simple common sense, if you’re educated, financially stable and have a network of similarly empowered friends to help out.

While a lack of resources is undoubtedly a major barrier to some, the biggest hurdles of all are know-how and confidence.

Getting your hands on those resources is a hell of a lot easier when you’re equipped with self-belief and the necessary knowledge.

What NCVO’s research really tells us is that we need community development and empowerment work more than ever – at a time when it’s coming under threat.

Austin Macauley, editor, New Start Online magazine


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